How to use condoms and lubricant

There are many kinds of sexual activities other than penetration, but if, as is often the case, someone wants to keep on having penetrative sex, either anally or vaginally, then learning to use condoms properly, and using them consistently, is the major step in adopting safer sex.

The main reason that condoms fail is because they are used incorrectly – they are torn during opening, oil-based lubricants are used, or they are put on incorrectly, for example.

How to use them

The best demonstration of condom use that most people get is seeing one placed hurriedly onto a banana. That kind of prudishness is no help to anyone, and can lead to people taking needless risks when they use condoms.

Using a condom properly is easy, once someone has learnt how. Correct use will prevent condoms breaking, leaking or slipping off during sex. The following section sets out some points which may be useful in talking to someone about condom use.

Here are the most important aspects of condom use. More detailed instructions are given below.

  • Choose a condom which carries the British Kitemark.
  • Look after the condom - do not leave unused condoms in direct sunlight, be careful of tearing, using old condoms, leaving space or air in the condom, or not using enough lubrication.
  • Use the right kind of lubricant (water-based) and not the wrong kind of lubricant (oil-based).
  • Always expel any air by holding the teat of the condom between thumb and forefinger. 
  • Unroll the condom all the way to the base of the penis when it is hard and before starting sex.
  • Apply lubricant over the outside of the whole condom. Re-apply during sex if necessary.
  • When pulling out, hold the condom tight to the base of the penis, to prevent leakage.
  • Never re-use a condom. Once it is used, throw it away and put on a new one if you start again.

Step-by-step guide

  • Open the packet carefully to avoid damaging the condom (jewellery, long fingernails or careless use of teeth could tear it). The condom comes out rolled up forming a ring which will fit over the penis.
  • Put the condom on when the penis is hard and before any kind of penetration begins.
  • Check the condom is the right way up; you can test with a finger that it rolls out and down.
  • Keep the penis completely free of grease and lubricant.
  • Squeeze the closed end of the condom between the thumb and forefinger to expel the air. Air bubbles can make condoms break.
  • Hold the condom over the tip of the penis, and use your other hand to carefully unroll it down to the base. It may help to stretch the condom width-ways in order to ease it down the penis and to ensure that it remains in place once penetration begins. But be careful not to pierce the condom with your fingernails when doing this.
  • If you have a foreskin, pull it back before covering the head of the penis with the condom.
  • Don't try to cover the testicles ('balls') with a condom.
  • Smooth the condom to eliminate any air bubbles.
  • Cover the outside of the condom with a water-based lubricant. Put lube inside your partner too.
  • Use only water-based or silicone lubricants. Do NOT use anything oily like Vaseline, petroleum jelly, cooking oils, butter, hand creams or body lotion.
  • Some men withdraw occasionally, to check the condom and to add more lubricant.
  • Never use two condoms at once. This is more likely to lead to breakage because of rubber rubbing against rubber.
  • If you lose your erection the condom may slip. This is the biggest single cause of condom failure. Fingers held round the base of the condom will help it stay put.
  • If the condom does break or slip off, withdraw as soon as you find out! Obviously you will need to use a new one if this happens.
  • A condom is more likely to break if sex lasts a long time, (longer than 45 minutes). Consider changing the condom during a long sex session.
  • After coming (ejaculation) withdraw the penis before it becomes soft (otherwise semen could leak out of the condom). To prevent the condom slipping off your penis at this stage, hold it firmly round the base as you withdraw.
  • Throw used condoms away. Dispose of them thoughtfully, e.g. wrapped up in a tissue and then thrown in the rubbish. They shouldn't be flushed down the toilet, since this may cause blockages in sewage disposal.
  • Never use a condom more than once.
  • Never use the same condom on two people in succession.
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This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.